The NOAD lists the pronunciation of Xavier as (ig)ˈzāvēər. In my own experience the parenthetical pronunciation is very common. I, however, do not know of any other x-initial words that are vowel-initiated when spoken.

Why is Xavier often pronounced (ig)ˈzāvēər?

I have two guesses, but they are merely guesses.

  1. While Xavier is pronounced xaˈβjer in its native Spanish, it is pronounced ɡzavje in French (Wikipedia). Does English pronunciation follow French pronunciation, but with the initial g growing into a vowel?

  2. According to Wikipedia the name Xavier comes from the Basque "etxe berri", for 'new house'. Did English somehow maintain the vowel from etxe?

What is the real reason Xavier is sometimes pronounced vowel-initial? Has this alternate pronunciation always existed? Are any other English x-initial words spoken with an initial vowel?

  • 1
    The only "English word" I can think of that starts with an X spoken as a vowel sound is xray (I don't recognise any initial vowel in Xavier, which starts with a /z/, same as most such words, or with an aspirated /h/). Is this anything to do with English pronunciation by Spanish speakers (apparently they add a vowel sound before lots of words starting with S). – FumbleFingers Dec 15 '15 at 21:29
  • 2
    FWIW, the St Xavier high school in Louisville KY was universally pronounced "ex-avier" when I was a kid. – Hot Licks Dec 15 '15 at 21:33
  • Because of X-men. (Actually, I just think it started out as a common error based on the more usual sound of "x," like pronouncing "yttrium" as "yittrium" instead of "ittrium.") – sumelic Dec 15 '15 at 22:14
  • 2
    In teaching me the sounds of the letters, my first-grade teacher insisted that initial x was pronounced as z because pronouncing it like the x in fox |ks| would be impossible in initial position. I doubted that and took it as a challenge immediately, and was vindicated years later when I undertook the study of Greek. I now routinely pronounce words like xylophone and xenophobic and names like Xenophon with initial |ks| just to be contrary. But in American Catholic contexts I routinely hear the name Xavier pronounced with initial |εks|. – Brian Donovan Dec 15 '15 at 22:44
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/19493/… – Gnawme Dec 16 '15 at 16:31

As an expansion of this answer, this explanation from Quora rings true:

Not all, but most of the English words where X occurs as the first letter are of Greek origin.

Words of Greek origin that begin with 'X' in English are pronounced with a 'Zzzz' sound because the original sound, sort-of like 'Ks-' or 'Ksee-' or 'Kzee-', has not been adopted in English; at least, not in the front of a word.

For example: Xylophone: The word in Greek is ξυλόφωνο, pronounced in Greek a bit like KSEE-loh-fon-o. Similarly: Xeno-

There are a slew of x-initial words in the English language with this pronunciation.

protected by tchrist May 27 '16 at 5:32

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